4 tips for giving up the "mommy guilt"

After too many hours spent paralyzed by intense guilt, Kristin resolves to banish the emotion and focus on the positive.

Photo by mirimcfly via Flickr.

It is 5:41 a.m., according to the iPad that’s fallen off the side of my bed and onto the floor. I squint at the numbers with one eye open, while the closed eye still burns. The baby’s had a good night, relatively speaking, but I was still jolted out of a deep sleep three times for his feedings and my face feels fuzzy.

In the kitchen I eye the electric pump warily. Even thinking about it makes my chest needle, but grimly I attach the suction cups to my nipples and inhale sharply as the awful suction-y noises begin. I can’t watch the drips come out, it’s too much, and so I think about my baby asleep in my bed, about my older baby splayed alarmingly large in his own bed and I try to avoid thinking about the weekend.

On Thursday I leave for a two-and-a-half day business trip. It marks my first time away from my infant son and my heart heaves with guilt. Will he take to bottles exclusively? Will he wonder where I am in the night? Will I create some kind of long-lasting damage by leaving him to take care of business?

I’ve read extensively about “mommy guilt,” and had my part in it too. I felt it heavily with my firstborn son: When I put him in daycare, when I fed him jarred rather than hand-pureed vegetables, for my part in the disintegration of my relationship with his father.  But guilt — if it’s unfounded and, especially, if sourced from an irreversible circumstance — is such a completely useless, asinine emotion and I promised myself I wouldn’t allow myself to feel it again with Jude.

I told myself before we even conceived him, that after my baby was born:

  • I would exercise unapologetically, because a healthy mom is a happier, more loving mom, and I need physical release to thrive.
  • I would breastfeed for as long as possible, and remember that I am a productive, happy human being who was exclusively fed formula as an infant. I wouldn’t allow myself devastation if I needed to supplement breast milk with formula.
  • I would take pride in my work, and not feel guilt at returning to it quickly, as my work is necessary to provide my family with the tools that will allow them to live safely and fruitfully.

I do exercise unapologetically. I don’t ask permission to go to the gym for an hour each day. I don’t feel apologetic when I come home (OK, maybe slightly if the baby has been wailing the entire time) And if I have to supplement with formula here and there, I really don’t feel guilt. I work from home and can still be very close to my baby throughout the day and so my angst about that is minimal.

But the seeping, raw regret I feel about leaving my baby for a two-day business trip is proving difficult to ignore. Logically, I know he won’t be hungry — there are 24 bags of frozen breastmilk for Corey and our nanny to feed him with. I know that Corey is an incredible dad and that Jude will be in excellent hands. I know that my older son will lend a hand and a smile wherever necessary and that I’ll be back very quickly. I know that my career is absolutely necessary to allowing my family to live in our nice home, in our beautiful city, close to good schools and the greatest shot at a head start in life.

So why the crippling mommy guilt, and how exactly do I banish it from rolling around uselessly in my gut forever?

A quick Google of the term “mommy guilt” brings up hundreds of articles on the phenomenon and what we can do about it.

Here are some of my favourites:

Ignore the message boards
Moms are brutally hard on one another, and it’s even worse cloaked in the anonymity of the Internet than it is in real life. Moms berate each other liberally and gleefully online, admonishing one another for going back to work, for having to use formula, for having a glass of wine, for eating the wrong foods, for enjoying an hour to herself. I don’t know why this is, but it’s pervasive and it’s prevalent and it can mess with your head, even when you know it’s slightly ridiculous. I’ve been blogging for almost nine years now and have taken my share of cheap shots, and now I don’t even read my comments until I’m in a particularly positive head space. I especially disregard comments from that usually bitchy woman known as “Anonymous.”

Instead of Googling and reading message board posts, talk to your friend about your challenges. Listen to her when she tells you you’re an awesome mother. Surround yourself with positive people and realize fully that the Internet does not know you or what you’re going through.

Take a tip from dad
I watch Corey get ready for his days working downtown. He shaves carefully, puts on cologne, stuffs his earbuds in his pocket. He is slightly relieved to work outside the home, where there are no protesting babies and offending odours escaping from dirty diaper pails. He doesn’t kiss the baby’s head worriedly before he exits the front door, certain that his day away isn’t going to irreversibly alter the baby’s lifelong mental state. He doesn’t apologize to me for having to leave us to make money for our family. He doesn’t send me four texts throughout the day, wondering how we are making out without him. He just does his job thoroughly and enjoys us deeply when he gets home.

Men are immune from mommy guilt, it seems. It doesn’t make them lesser fathers. Lesson understood.

Remember: No one is a “Supermom”
No one can do it all. There is no one woman in the universe who has declared that she has mastered motherhood, career, fitness levels and a sparkly clean house simultaneously. And if there were, you probably wouldn’t want to be her because she’d be a haggard, sleepless zombie. Think about your mom, your friends and acquaintances who balance life pretty well — who have a smile more often than not. Without fail, they take some time to do stuff that they love, right? And they let the laundry pile. 

You’re all right, right?
I spent hours hunched over my keyboard Googling formula. My baby, I thought, might need to supplement here and there when he wasn’t seeming to get enough from me. I had further angst about it after stumbling on a message board (see above!) until my own mom said to me softly. “Kristin, you were formula-fed because I was so sick after you were born and you turned out just fine, right?”

I did turn out absolutely fine. I am a well-adjusted adult with a good job and a joy of life and what I remember about my childhood is cross-country runs through rain-soaked forests, the homemade pizza and peach juice my mom made for me at lunch, California kickball on our lawn with the neighbourhood kids. What I ate as a baby, and whether my mom ever went for a night out without me is wholly irrelevant to who I am as an adult. My mom would have made mistakes, I’m sure, but I don’t remember them because she did everything mostly right. That’s what I aspire to do, too.

This weekend, while away, I am going to eat ice cream and sleep for seven hours straight and wear dry-clean-only clothes without worrying about spit up. I’m going to sweat in the early morning in a hotel gym and I am going to miss my boys like crazy — but I’m going to realize that absence often makes the heart grow fonder and I will appreciate them all the more when I’m home.

Photo by mirimcfly via Flickr.

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